Updated: Jan 21
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Facing the Las Vegas Raiders as well as a 31 year franchise curse of postseason failure, most expected second year QB Joe Burrow and his rookie partner in crime Ja'Marr Chase to succumb to the pressure of the moment, as so many high draft pick-Bengals had before them:
But I don't feel any of those pregame doubters were LSU fans:
Tigers fans fully understand the significance of the 2018-19 LSU duo's shared mentality and power, their brilliant influence on one another.....thus, there would be no shaking in fear ahead of their postseason debut against the Las Vegas Raiders, there were no nerves or vomit buckets, no agonizing over personal anxieties.....this Wild Card matchup was yet another grand stage for the pair to ascend & excel....neither would balk at the chance to become Cincinnati Bengals Legends.....not after the long road they traveled to Saturday afternoon's glory....
A year ago, Joe Burrow sat on a couch while watching the NFL Playoffs....nursing his torn up knee....to the outside football world, the road from recovery to an AFC North title, followed by Cincy's first win in the postseason since 1990, seemed like mere fantasy;
Then, once Cincinnati drafted Ja'Marr Chase, amid lively criticism from all sides (except this site who supported the move & predicted this very outcome), Zac Taylor's offense became one of the most dangerous attacks across the NFL, utilizing an impressive receiving corps led by Chase's 13 TDs (LSUOdyssey.com's nomination for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year), backed by another 2020 CFP National title game participant (Clemson's Tee Higgins), alongside strong contributing force & future Pro Bowler Tyler Boyd, all while holding one of the NFL's most elite TEs (CJ Uzomah) and the perfect running back for a Burrow-led offense: Joe Mixon, elite on the ground or through the air....
Over the course of these young "LSU Bengals" regular season rampage, every indication of a Cincy postseason run was on the cards....and still, many dismissed Joe & Ja'Marr's greatness for "trending luck": for example, many times have we heard analysts use the Ravens' defensive absences as an excuse for Burrow's 400 yard outburst, resulting in Baltimore losing the AFC North (which Baltimore had won 2 of the past 3 seasons).
After Saturday night, some may still talk shit, but their vitriol will fall on deaf ears, drowned out by the bells which have tolled for thee:
Walking out to a raucous, expectant Cincy crowd at Paul Brown Stadium for their playoff debuts, these Tiger legends were ready to become Bengals heroes.
Realizing the Raiders' ability to fight until the final possible snap, everyone understood what the game would require:
4 quarters.....4 full quarters.....and while coming back from a minor knee problem (which kept Joe out of the final game of 2021), facing 31 years of pressure and the hopes of an entire franchise on his shoulders, Burrow...with a lotta help from his LSU friend...did just that.
On the opening drive of their postseason careers, Joe & Ja'Marr were in rapid sync, the Raiders' road white and black jerseys could've easily been swapped for Clemson orange or Bama red: Joe completing his first 3 passes to Chase for 9+ yards and a first down apiece.
Cashing in his first ever postseason drive as an NFL QB with 7 points, Burrow drove the Bengals down the field, making purposeful throws, taking care of the football, and extending plays in the pocket.
Burrow & Chase continued to slice the Raiders apart, Taylor deploying the Bengals' 2021 ROTY in a variety of smart formations, including handing off a 15 yard end around; Chase was also directly positioned from the backfield on a few snaps.
In fact, the 2019 Biletnikoff winner's first 6 touches (4 receptions) led to first down yardage, including a pair of nice end around rushes, generating 22 yards on critical downs.
Then, it was Joe's beautiful screen to Joe Mixon which broke the Raiders' resolve down near the red zone, opening up tight end CJ Uzomah for his 6th TD catch of 2021, Joe needling a precise throw over the middle through the defenders' arms.
Once David Carr was strip sacked by Bengals' DE Trey Henderson, profiting off great interior physicality, the Cincy defense were doing their best to give Joe's offense every advantage, setting up Burrow and co on the 15 yard line with a 7-3 lead. However, after 2 woeful play-calls on 3rd and 4th down, the Bengals could only extend the lead by 7 after Evan McPherson's field goal.
Early on, the Raiders continued to make foolish plays, such as touching a kickoff inside the 5 yard line before stepping out of bounds, which looked to be the logical destination for McPherson's wayward kickoff.....a difference of 40-45 yards. This was followed immediately by a Raiders' false start, further pinning back David Carr on the edge of the Cincy goal-line, eventually leading to yet another punt.
Despite a 28 yard reception from Chase and some strong contributions from Joe Mixon, poor play-calling and the Raiders' 3rd down pressure led to Burrow being sacked, twisted around as he tried to keep the play alive....exposing his knees dangerously to injury once again....although he luckily went down without a fuss, and Cincy kicked yet another field goal to head up 13-3.
With 4:20 left in the 2nd quarter, Joe finally tossed an incomplete target Chase's way, going for it all with a bomb over the top, only for excellent coverage to narrowly bat the ball away from Ja'Marr. Going for it on 4th down, Chase took another pitch from Joe, using his excellent pace and vision to find 7 yards and the first down.
All the while, Burrow was threading outrageous passes through the middle to Uzomah, including a single 3rd down & another long gain down the seam, headlined by Joe's sickening accuracy.....but, knowing Joe as we do, he saved the best for last:
Cincy's #1 overall pick finished Vegas off with a mouth-watering, face-removing dance with the devil touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd which will be replayed for decades on end:
With pressure arriving from his left, Joe rolled to his right, looking....looking.....no one open....looking some more....and just as Joe ran out of room, just as pressure was about to blast him from the side, Burrow tap-danced on one foot, launching off balance from his right toward the back of the end zone.
Throwing completely from the hip, he lofted a dart over the top of defenders and right into the waiting hands of Tyler Boyd.......posterization.....Joe's right foot was so close to the white line, even NBC's commentators believed Joe stepped out of bounds before releasing the football.
Leading the Bengals to a 20-13 first half lead, mostly in control while missing crucial opportunities (2 field goals inside the red zone), Joe finished his first ever postseason half of football by tossing 12/18 for 146 yards and 2 TDs, backed by a trio of 3rd down completions.
Though the 2nd half found much attrition for Cincy, with momentum headed the Raiders' way, the Bengals' defense stepped up massively, allowing just 6 points from Vegas during the entire second half (only 12 total points were scored between the two teams throughout the half).
Assisted by huge plays from Wild Card MVP Ja'Marr Chase's 116 yards & 9 catches or CJ Uzomah's 64 yards, 6 catches and massive touchdown, the Bengals won their first playoff game in 31 years.
Thanks to Joe Burrow's ruthless control and willingness to win, the second year quarterback dialed back his 50/50 passes in favor of quick, devastating strikes over the middle or underneath, eliminating the Raiders by "death of a 1,000 catches".
Just as the Raiders would start to cave around the line of scrimmage, expecting early routes, Burrow and Chase would connect on a series of repeated, timely strikes, all for blistering chunks of yardage. Then, the former Heisman would zip tight throws down the seam for Uzomah, breaking tendency, breaking it again, and playing a psychological dance against Gus Bradley's defense.
The second half was a bit ugly from the Bengals' perspective, yet it was David Carr's early fumble and last second interception inside Cincy's 9 yard line, which gave Burrow & Chase's offense the edge to survive a rough and tumble night of January playoff football.
As historic as Joe & Ja'Marr's reunion has become, it still doesn't quite match what has changed behind the scenes for Cincinnati:
The dividends paid by drafting these two LSU 1st Rounders have been hefty. Possessing a decade of football ahead of 'em, Chase & Burrow are leading from the front, letting everyone know where the future of Cincy is headed.
If Saturday is any indication, Joe & Ja'Marr are not only more mature than their first & second year NFL peers, they've evolved to the point that they are ready for a Super Bowl run right here, right now....
in a wide open AFC and NFC path to the Super Bowl.....a route littered with few cemented contenders, #1 & #2 seeds be damned....
If the Steelers upset Kansas City, the LSU Bengals would be forced to travel to Buffalo.
If Kansas City wins, Joe & Ja'Marr would have to take their high-flying offense down South against Mike Vrabel's stout #1 seed Titans, a team with plenty of recent playoff experience, as well as carrying a few 2019 Tigers (WR Racey McMath and CB Kristian Fulton).
At this point, it looks like a Bengals vs Chiefs (or Burrow, Chase & Shelvin vs Mathieu, Clyde & Darrell) showdown could very well be on the cards for this season's AFC Championship Game.
-Another noticeable 2019 LSU Bengal is 4th Round pick DT Tyler Shelvin.
You may be asking yourself, why didn't you mention him? Well, if you watched the game, he was nowhere to be found. That's because Shelvin was on the pregame inactive list, which has become a custom of his rookie year, now only appearing in just 3 total games for Cincinnati.
Shelvin was fantastic last week, posting 4 tackles after appearing during the past few games; his absence vs Las Vegas was "disappointing" a Bengals source told LSUOdyssey.com.
9 Yard Catch (1st Down)
17 Yard Catch (1st Down)
11 Yard Catch (1st Down)
28 Yard Catch (1st Down)
7 Yard Rush (1st Down)
15 Yard Rush (1st Down: on 4th down)
5 Yard Catch
7 Yard Catch (1st Down)
-20+ yard catch into red zone territory negated due to a bizarre on field Timeout called by the Raiders before the ball was snapped (12 men on the field)
9 Yard Catch
-1 Incompletion (Drop)
19 Yard Catch (1st Down: on 3rd Down)
11 Yard Catch (1st Down)
1 Yard Rush
12 First Down Completions
4 on 3rd (2 TDs)
1 28 yarder to Chase
1 29 to CJ
1 for 19 on 3rd to Chase
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2022 Uninterrupted Writings Inc
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